Call for papers: How African Cities work — Material life and postcoloniality

Deadline: 2 April 2016 - 12:00am

Dates: 7 - 9 September 2016


Where: University of Cambridge (Robinson College)

At the ASAUK biennial conference, Bill Freund, with the University of Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa, and Matteo Rizzo, with SOAS, University of London, will be hosting a panel, ‘How African Cities work: Material life and postcoloniality.’ They invite participation.

About the panel:

African cities have become a major theme of social science research. Within this field, perspectives that can be labelled as “post-colonial” or “culturalist” have become highly influential. Work by scholars such as Simone, Pieterse and Robinson has taken issue with the normative and Eurocentric nature of dystopic narratives on urbanisation in Africa, in a move away from materialist explanations of urban realities centred on economic failure. In Simone’s words, urban life should not be seen as “a series of policies gone wrong”. In contrast, agency and “determination by urban Africans to find their own way” and “the resourcefulness” and “astute capacity” on which they draw hold the keys to understanding urban society in Africa.

This panel is premised on the perception that while avoiding Eurocentrism and teleologies is key to the study of urban life in Africa, much of post-colonial scholarship on African cities falls short of adequate analytical attention to the role of structural forces in African cities and to pinning down the materiality of urban life. African urban inhabitants, the amorphous “urban poor”, or “people at the grassroots”, tend to float mid-air, unhinged from the material and the economic. Often missing in them is an understanding of the social and economic processes which both constrain and are negotiated by “ordinary” urban residents on a daily basis. The celebration of individuals’ agency and of the functionality of African cities is thus often rooted on shaky foundations.

This panel invites contributions that explore the interplay of structural forces and agency by both individuals and groups in understanding how individual postcolonial African cities work and the materiality of life of its residents. In this context, panelists might consider:

  • What constraints on urban development are posed by historic realities?
  • How do the material interests of men and women intertwine and conflict in making African cities what they are?
  • How are key urban services organised?
  • How do urban residents make a living?
  • How does capitalism in and of the African city shape spaces and lives?
  • How is it resisted and mediated by urban residents and by different layers of the state?
  • What does urban protest and struggles for the city teach us about life in African cities today?
  • How do urban-rural and intra-urban relations, including mobility, help to explain the shape and growth of African cities?

The call for papers is now open.  A PDF file of accepted panels (symposia) is available below for those searching for the appropriate setting for their papers.  The PDF file is arranged alphabetically according to the name of the panel convenor but panels can also be identified on the ASAUK conference services (Oxford Abstracts) website by their ID numbers which run in ascending order and which also are included in the file. Download panels here

It is possible to submit papers via the following link to the conference services website:

We do not require you to submit a full paper in advance, please submit an abstract of 250 words. The call for papers will close on 2nd April 2016.

If you have any queries please contact Dorian Addison: conference2016.cambridge [a]

Photo: Johannesburg, South Africa. Credit: South African Tourism (flickr).

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